You know a device has a great user interface when someone utterly unfamiliar with it accomplishes a task within 10 seconds of picking it up. Apple’s iPods pass this test with aplomb; Creative’s Zen Vision: M utterly fails it. It’s a significant flaw in an otherwise terrific media player.
Only one of the eight illuminated buttons adorning the player’s face offers a clue to its function: the play/pause toggle. You’ll need the manual to figure out everything else, but the research is worth the effort.
Like Apple’s fifth-generation iPod, Creative’s latest player is equipped with a 30GB hard drive and a drop-dead gorgeous 2.5-inch backlit LCD (320x240 resolution). But where the iPod reminds us of Kate Moss, the Zen Vision: M stirs visions of Kirstie Alley.
Creative two-ups Apple by building in an FM radio tuner and a voice recorder, but it’s a large battery that accounts for the sealed case’s expansive girth, not these minor features. We nevertheless managed to squeeze out a scant 8.5 hours of combined audio and video playback time.
User interface and physiology aside, the M delivers awesome sound and video. The included earbuds are better than mediocre, but it took Shure’s superior E4g earbuds to expose this player’s excellent dynamic range. The screen is equally as good, even when viewed off axis. We’re less enthused with the player’s click-clack buttons, its hyper-sensitive touch pad, and the screen’s susceptibility to scuffs (Creative provides only a cheap cloth pouch for in-transit protection).
Charging or synching requires plugging in the included mini-port, which has connections for USB; an included A/C adapter; and (boo! hiss!) a not-included, proprietary, $19 A/V cable.
The Zen Vision: M is a superb choice if you’re into video and all-you-can-eat, music-to-go services such as Rhapsody and Napster: It sounds and looks every bit as good as the video iPod, even if it isn’t as sexy. Fashionistas and iTunes addicts, on the other hand, should stick with Apple.